The Hannibal volleyball team could have viewed a thumping by Payson Seymour in the first set Tuesday night as high time to throw in the towel.
Instead of quitting, the Lady Pirates battled.
After falling 25-9 in the opening set, Hannibal (4-3) responded with a 27-25 win in the second to force an all-or-nothing Game 3. The hard-fought Game 2 victory broke the Lady Indians' winning streak of 21 consecutive games to start the season.
“I was really disappointed with the 'fighter' instinct in the girls during the first set,” Hannibal coach Kelsey Whitley admitted. “They should be pumped up about playing a tough team and we started slow, something that's been a problem in the past. (We had to) get after it, or it's going to be a short night for us. I urged them to dig deep, fight for each point and take care of business on their court.”
Hannibal junior Claire Thomas provided a key block, and sophomore Abby Baumann came up with a kill to help the Lady Pirates pull within 21-18 in the deciding game.
But Payson (11-0) allowed just one more point to the home team, capping the night with a kill by senior outside hitter Kamryn Flesner to win the third set 25-19. Lady Indians senior middle Josie Stanford provided five kills during Game 3 to help the visitors secure victory.
“There is no doubt that Josie is a phenomenal player,” Whitley said. “She jumps well, hits well and connects well with her setter. She's been a threat to us since she stepped on the court as a freshman.
“They are probably the best team that we will face all year, and games like that will only make us better.”
Hannibal built momentum early on in the second set with a kill by junior Payton Frick that made it 5-2. But Payson stormed back to tie it 10-all and surged to a 22-15 lead to put the Lady Pirates' backs against the wall.
Hannibal then played its strongest stretch of the night to rattle off seven consecutive points. Kaylee Falconer served a pair of aces during the run, while Baumann and Peyton Utterback each recorded kills. Maddie Janes and Shelby Nelson teamed up for a block to make it 22-22.
“What impressed me most about the girls is their willingness to fight for every point,” Whitley said. “Fighting for every ball should be something we do for every point, not just when our backs are against the wall.”
Stanford put Payson ahead 24-23 with a kill before the teams traded missed serves.
Hannibal went on to score the final three points of the game. Following a lift call on Payson, Kyler Rademan came through in the clutch with an ace before the Lady Indians hit the ball out of bounds to end the set.
Payson used a 9-2 run in the third game to build a 21-13 lead in front of a raucous Korf Gymnasium crowd filled with supporters from each fan base. Soon after, the visitors finished off their 11th win of the year.
Payson setter Cassie Eidson finished the night with 37 assists for an efficient Lady Indians team that reached the Illinois regional championship last year.
Falconer and Rademan combined for 15 set assists for Hannibal, while Baumann led the Lady Pirates with five kills during the match.
Taken by surprise
Game 1 didn't go in Hannibal's favor, but it did include arguably the most impressive Lady Pirates dig of the night.
Libero Haley Ballinger positioned herself in front of a powerful strike from Payson's outside hitter and somehow kept the ball alive off her shoulder, catching the Lady Indians off guard as they started celebrating prematurely.
“I'm not sure if Haley found the ball on that one or if the ball found Haley, but either way, the ball was up and I think it took everyone by surprise,” Whitley said.
Although Hannibal ultimately lost that point, the junior continues to establish herself as a consistent back row player for Whitley's squad. She was second on the team to Maddie Janes with eight digs Tuesday.
“Haley had a great night (of) serve receive and digging for us and I look forward for her numbers to continue to increase and her strength and ability to continue as well,” the coach said.
Bench comes up big
Utterback's number was called off the bench to handle a tough job Tuesday night.
The sophomore wasn't fazed.
“Utterback knew going into the game that we needed her to put up a bigger block for us than our setter could provide, and that's always a tough situation,” Whitley said.
Utterback provided a boost the Lady Pirates with four kills after recording six in the junior varsity match immediately beforehand. The rising star left her coach impressed with how she responded to pressure.
“I felt confident after just a few points that Utterback was in there for the right reason,” Whitley said. “She jumps well and swings hard, something that we were lacking in some areas, and she did a beautiful job taking care of business when she was on the court.”
Frick also proved valuable off the bench for Hannibal during the second set.
“(Frick) was not aware of the role that she would play going into the varsity match,” Whitley said. “She played all three games for us at the JV level, so I knew that her availability was limited in the varsity match (they can only play four a night). We struggled with passing and getting kills in the first game, and she did a great job coming off the bench and passing good balls and putting up kills for us.”
Miller helps JV to victory
Sophomore Hannah Miller finished with eight kills and eight digs to lead the Hannibal junior varsity team to a 19-25, 25-16, 25-22 victory over Payson.
“Hannah had a fantastic night,” Whitley said. “She worked hard in all aspects of the game — hitting, serving, and digging. Hannah has been a consistent attribute to the JV roster and I look forward to her continuing to improve and do great things on the court.”
Emma Deien led JV with 15 digs and nine kills, while Frick dished out 15 set assists and came up with eight digs.
Coming up next
Hannibal travels to Mexico for a North Central Missouri Conference matchup on Thursday.